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Pär Lindholm wants to be the Leafs 4C

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He’s not the only one, but what can Lindholm’s career tell us to expect from him?

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 6 - Norway v Sweden Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The first thing to learn about Pär Lindholm is that he was born in October. That means he’ll be 27 before a single NHL game is played. He is almost two years older than Miro Aaltonen, which makes him almost three years older than Aaltonen was last year in training camp. He’s only two years younger than Tyler Ennis.

Not a Prospect

Lindholm is a different sort of signing to Andreas Borgman or Calle Rosen. He’s much more in the vein of Josh Jooris and Tyler Ennis. He might need a learning curve for the smaller ice — which in my view is largely about shooting angles and how you move in the neutral zone — but he’s not going to develop.

What he has done in the recent past isn’t a player growing into himself, it’s his peak years. Most people have seen his goal stats from last season, but we should dig deeper into what his usage and performance has actually been in the SHL to get a better picture.

The first thing I notice is that it took him a long time to get to the SHL. He moved into the Skellefteå system as a teenager, but after a couple of tryouts of a game or two, he was loaned out to teams in Allsvenskan (second tier league with a relegation/promotion relationship to the SHL) beginning at age 19 and running through to the 2013-2014 season, when he was 22.

I’m going to start with his last year in Allsvenskan. He played that season to great success for Karlskrona, and he finished with 13 goals and 29 assists in 53 games for .81 points per game. That’s eleventh best for players who played a decent sample of games, so he was very good at the league level.

That rate is just a titch below Jesper Jensen (not that Jesper Jensen, half of Denmark’s players have that name), a centre who has a solid SHL career now and was playing on the same team as Lindholm that year. Lindholm was a titch above Luca Caputi, who was playing in his second last hockey season at the age of 25. And he was also a titch above William Nylander who began the season aged 17.

If you’re dominating Allsvenskan points tables at 22, a solid SHL career is usually your future. If you’re doing it at 17, well, that’s another story.

Lindholm in the SHL

His great year in the lower-level league got the attention of his club, and the next season Lindholm played full time for Skellefteå. He played on the team for four years, so a look at his points and other interesting stats for all four years is in order. First even strength, as it’s listed as on the SHL stats site: EQ

Pär Lindholm SHL

Season Age GP EQ TOI/GP EQ G EQ A EQ P P/60
Season Age GP EQ TOI/GP EQ G EQ A EQ P P/60
2014-2015 23 54 12:54 13 9 22 1.89
2015-2016 24 52 12:42 5 9 14 1.27
2016-2017 25 38 13:44 10 8 18 2.07
2017-2018 26 49 15:24 13 19 32 2.54

The main takeaway from this is that at even strength, his scoring fluctuated, but ballooned last season and not just because of increased ice time. But we need to question why he suddenly improved, because it can’t be automatically laid at the feet of growth, like you might for a young prospect.

In the last two years, Lindholm and Joakim Lindström were one and two on the team in points. The major difference for last year was that Oscar Möller became the full-time third on their line, while he only played 16 games in 2016-2017. Some of Lindholm’s improved results can definitely be attributed to Möller having an excellent year.

But it’s not necessarily his points that have attracted the Leafs’ attention. They want to see if a top line centre in the SHL can come in at 4C in the NHL. Assuming that 2.5 P/60 is not his usual points ability without a lot of help from his linemates, he is still obviously capable offensively.

His faceoff skill will have to be part of the picture as a depth centre. These are his percentages:

  • 14-15: 56.9%
  • 15-16: 51.54%
  • 16-17: 50.1%
  • 17-18: 58.33%

Wow, last year was really great all over for him. But obviously he’s fine at it, but maybe just looking at last year and seeing Ryan O’Reilly level ability is reading too much into one season.

Special teams and defence are areas we should look at. The thing that made Aaltonen a very odd choice to try to turn into a 4C was that he was a power play guy with absolutely no proven defensive ability. And on the Marlies, used in exactly that way, he was great. Unless Lindholm is just Aaltonen, only older and Swedish, he has to have some ability at the defensive side of the game.

The SHL does not produce Corsi data or any other genuine measure of impact on shots against. Do you want his plus/minus? Well, if you expect a scoring forward on a very good team to have any negatives, you’re due to be disappointed. If you’ve guessed his best year was last year, you’ve discovered how much that stat is driven by offence. He was also on the ice for the most total goals allowed on the team, however. Most of the time, he’s high up in on-ice goals allowed (the minus), but one of the many, many reasons that’s a very crude measure is that it doesn’t take into account that a player can have bad goaltending behind them through no cause but random chance.

His special teams ice time reveals that he’s never been a PK specialist:

Special Teams Ice Time

Season GP PP TOI/GP PK TOI/GP
Season GP PP TOI/GP PK TOI/GP
2014-2015 54 01:16 00:37
2015-2016 52 00:19 00:52
2016-2017 38 02:36 00:43
2017-2018 49 03:03 00:45

He’s moved up the ranks on the team to what is the top power play unit, but his PK time has always had him well out of the top spots for forwards. He’s not even second unit, he’s an optional extra, or perhaps the guy who gets half a shift of PK at the end so he can transition to offence.

The SHL offers a TOI/+ stat for the power play, which means how long you’re on the ice between each goal scored. Lindholm is not very good at this. It’s hard to blame him, however, as the Skellefteå power play looked bad in general by this measure last year.

Elias Pettersson of the current champions, Växjö, was on the ice for 3:54 per goal on the power play. Lindholm was at 7:28, not all that far back of the rest of his team’s top unit, but well out of the elite level in the SHL. His earlier seasons are similar or even much, much worse.

So, it’s not likely he’ll be translating his team leading points on the power play to the NHL, but he has some skill at it. However, on a team with Andreas Johnsson? No chance he gets a chance, not without some injuries clearing the way.

Which brings us to boxplay, aka PK. The SHL offers the inverse efficiency stat: TOI/- for shorthanded minutes. Lindholm’s go a long way towards showing why he doesn’t get many shifts shorthanded. I am making no claim that this is a repeatable skill, but it is descriptive of what the coach was seeing.

Last year, he was actually third on the team, but that was not a good thing. He was a little better than he had been in the past, but the workhorses of the team, guys like John Norman, who had 35 minutes per goal against one year, were either gone or struggling. They were just all mediocre at best.

Skellefteå did well last year in the standings, not dominating, but they were a solid playoff team largely on the strength of their goals against being low. Their goalie, you’ll be shocked to hear, was second in the league in save percentage.

Conclusion

So what is this a picture of? A good SHL centre with modest special teams skill who was a late bloomer, or an okay player who flourished on a line he really clicked with in one anomaly of a season? I’m not sure, but I know which is most probable. I’ve seen Lindholm praised by Swedish journalists for his thinking on the ice, that illusive hockey IQ, which would be great, and it what you want in a player, but if he has it, it should show in his results, and his results show offensive skills on an offensively focused line.

I went back one year too many flipping through the Skellefteå stats, and in 2013-2014, they had a player who scored 20 goals and 15 assists in 52 games, most of them at equal strength. He likely played on the second line behind Lindstöm and Möller because the team also had Viktor Arvidsson — those were they days, my friend, when Skellefteå were kings of the world.

This guy, though, he played a lot of PK and only a little PP, and he was good on the PK, but not outstanding. He wasn’t leaking goals all over like the top line were at even strength, though.

This guy is Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. And that’s what a scoring line player in the SHL who can become a depth guy in the NHL looks like. No Skellefteå fans were surprised at how he played for Vegas last year in a slightly more offensive role than he’d had in Philly. They knew.

What I want is for Pär Lindholm to join the NHL, lose the ä for an a, and be great at it. What I expect is possible, maybe probable, however, is that the 1C on the Marlies this year won’t have to keep explaining how he’s not a Swede like the rest of them. I’m not sure that the Leafs are in a position to put Lindholm in the offensive zone often enough for him to succeed is the crux of the problem. And with the faceoff and dull defensive prowess of Josh Jooris to compete with, I’m not sure he’ll win the job even if he is the better player in isolation.

But training camp and the first few games of the season will tell us. By this time in October, we’ll know for sure.

There is one more depth signing to profile, and if you set you expectations low enough, you might enjoy the Igor Ozhiganov story that will be out today.